Much before Team Anna member and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan was granted exemption under the HP Tenancy and Land Reforms Act to buy over four hectares of tea gardens at Palampur,the Congress had already set a precedent of allowing diversion of the tea estates hitherto protected under the HP Ceiling on Land Holdings Act,1972.
In fact,between 2003 and 2007,the Congress government had granted permission for diversion of tea estates in 30 cases at Palampur,Dharamsala and Baijnath in Kangra district,according to the documents in the possession of The Indian Express.
It was perhaps a few years ago that changes were made to the Ceiling Act by the Congress government to grant permission to the owners of the tea estates to divert land for construction under sections 6 A and & 7A. Subsequently,a few approvals were also given to non-Himachalis to buy the tea gardens. The BJP government has granted permission in only one case,that is Prashant Bhushan, said Revenue Minister Gulab Singh Thakur.
Bhushan s society Kumud Bhushan Educational Society was granted permission under Section 118 of the HP Tenancy and Land Reforms Act to buy 4.68 hectares of land at Palampur for construction of an educational institution on February 2,2010.
And the owner,Manorma Devi daughter of the late Kushal Singh,a resident of Kamlehar (Palampur) village was granted permission to transfer this tea garden to Bhushans society under sections 6-A and 7-A of the HP Ceiling Act,1972. This is a mandatory requirement to sell land to non-Himachalis.
But,before this,the Congress government had relaxed norms for Jammu-based Prem Narayan Dewan to buy 7.75 hectares of land at Palampur for construction of residential houses on March 28,2007.
Besides,two Tibetan trusts Dongya Getsal Trust at Baijnath and Dorjong Monastic Institute Charitable Trust,Tassijong,Baijnath were granted relaxation under the HP Tenancy and Land Reforms Act on January 10,2003 and March 25,2003 respectively for building a meditation bhawan and residential houses.
According to the documents,Dongyu Trust was allowed to buy 43.32 hectares of land at Mohal Math while Dorjong Institutes permission pertained to 14.32 hectares of land at Jia.
Minister Thakurs assertion notwithstanding,the BJP government had also granted relaxation in favour of Dhauladhar Education Society to acquire land,bearing khasra no 36/34/1,measuring 3.86 hectares at Mauza Bhanyara (Shahpur) in Kangra on donation basis to set up an engineering college in January 2009. The Congress had alleged violation of the law then.
Under the HP Ceiling on Land Holdings Act,1972,tea estates were exempted as tea happened to be a plantation crop requiring economics of scale and having high employment potential. But,gradually,after the Kangra tea fell on bad day,the owners started diverting the land for construction instead of raising new plantations.